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Start-up accelerators do not work for female founders. Here's how to fix it



Start-up accelerators work well for most start-ups. But not for female founders.

This is something I've been intuitive about for years. So many experiences have driven this lesson home: Back then I did not find myself able to assess most accelerators because I could not afford to leave my family in three months. When I attended a demo night and by a dozen companies, there was only one woman on a team slide – and her title was "Executive Assistant." The times – and there have been many – when members of our society who go through top accelerators themselves share their experiences with me: their struggle to fit in; their struggle to keep up with the crowded-and-play-hard environment; their struggle to raise money despite the program's genuine best intentions to help them.

A study published earlier this year by the International Finance Corporation, a subsidiary of the World Bank, confirms what I have long suspected. Opinion polls found that male teams continued to raise 2.6 times more money after completing an accelerator compared to startups not participating in a program, while female-founded teams that completed accelerators saw no lift at all.

Accelerators have the power to be a great democratizing force in venture capital, but this promise will never be fulfilled until we make accelerators work for female founders.

Ready Set Raise, the accelerator pedal I launched through the Female Founders Alliance, was designed to solve this problem. Despite our own short course, we have demonstrated results: the eight companies in our last cohort raised almost $ 5 million in the pre-seed stage in just a few months. The question is, which start-ups are most successful in the gas environment, and how do we copy the success?

In our experience, what makes the biggest difference for female founders is how they connect with investors. Most accelerators ̵

1; ours included – culminate in an investor window, a closed door, only with invitation where startup presents its perfect pitch to a large group of vigilant investors. What we have learned is that relying on the shop window for the purpose of collecting rarely works. Instead, start-ups succeed only when they build excitement and rapport in the weeks leading up to the showcase and maintain investor relations in the months that follow, all while showing steady business growth.

There are three components to recreating this success. First, founders need to know how to talk about their business model, what KPIs to measure, and how and when to communicate their results. Ready Set Raise, and other accelerators that want to support female founders, should spend dedicated time helping entrepreneurs understand their business model, build a computer room, and write investor updates.

Second, founders and investors need to get to know each other more meaningfully – not just one-and-done on stage. We do this by hosting events and office hours with emerging fund managers across the country. While these meetings feel scary for entrepreneurs, large investors who are fit on stage want to work with entrepreneurs before the point of perfect polishing.

Finally, founders must learn to secure their soft-pitch company before the course is perfect. This is a skill you can learn and a muscle you can build, and accelerators can add programming to support both.

Collection successful – and starting a successful start, for that matter – is not achieved in a one-time, perfect performance on stage. You need to build lasting relationships that matter. You need to know how to describe your business in a way that investors can understand and get excited about. And you have to be ready to pitch at any time.

Ready Set Raise will help entrepreneurs always be ready. And we open up to get our program design so that other accelerators can help female founders succeed as well.

Leslie Feinzaig is the founder and CEO of the Female Founders Alliance .

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